The future of the mutual fund industry will not be as patrician as its past. The U.S. is becoming less white, and the percentage of homes in which English is the first language diminishes all the time. Minorities like Hispanics and Asians make up an increasing percentage of the population.
This means that mutual fund companies must respond if they want their prospectuses read and their marketing and advertising materials to be effective to all audiences. It looks increasingly like mutual fund marketing and customer service will be conducted in several languages in the future to adapt to these changing demographics.
There were 30.4 million Hispanics in the U.S. in July 1998, which is 11 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And that number is only going to increase. By 2050, Hispanics are expected to be 24.5 percent of the U.S. population, the Census Bureau predicts. These numbers are moving mutual fund companies to add a new dimension to their marketing strategies.
State Street Research & Management Co. of Boston has created an entire program for marketing to Spanish and Chinese-speaking investors. The program was started in May and goes beyond the translation of legal documents like prospectuses, which a handful of other fund companies are doing. State Street Research is enabling Spanish and Chinese speaking investors to gain access to State Street Research in their native tongues by telephone, on the Internet, as well as through mailings.
"Translation is the starting point, not the finishing point," said Joan Miller, senior vice president at State Street Research. "Educational materials are translated from a cultural perspective."
Bilingual educational materials, as well as prospectuses, have been printed in the two languages. The Chinese educational materials are not only written in Chinese, but they are designed to appeal to the Chinese culture by being colored red and featuring gold fish. Red signifies good luck in Chinese culture and fish signify abundance. Gold represents money, Miller said.
State Street Research is using a different brand name for the Chinese investors as well. It is calling itself State Street Research Great Wisdom Investment Services in its marketing materials as a result of insights provided by brokers doing business with Chinese-Americans.
The Spanish materials use graphics that incorporate different Latin American currencies to acknowledge the different countries of origin that are represented in the United States.
State Street Research is also creating Spanish and Chinese language Web sites. It already has Spanish and Chinese speaking customer service agents available to talk to investors.
"We believe that it's important to talk to customers in their own language," Miller said.
The program is a good business move based on a simple look at the numbers, according to Miller. Both the Chinese and Hispanic populations are growing and becoming more affluent. And these populations apparently like to speak their native tongue at home. According to State Street Research, 70 percent of Hispanics speak Spanish at home, and 82 percent of Chinese speak Chinese at home.
Hispanic income in the U.S. is rising, and Hispanics are seeking to invest their money, according to statistics compiled by State Street Research from a number of sources. In 1998, Hispanics possessed just three percent of total U.S. household financial assets at $750 billion. However, from 1990 to 1998 Hispanic average household income increased by 38 percent, and their buying power, which had increased by 67 percent over that eight-year period, is expected to double by the year 2010 to $965 billion.